Artificial satellites are used in communication, navigation, surveying, and other things, making them one of the most important pieces of technology today. Since the launching of the first artificial satellite in 1957 which cost $33 million, 6,542 satellites are orbiting around the earth as of last January 2021, among which only 40% are operational.
More satellites mean more connectivity at higher speed, but today a satellite launch costs a whopping $50 million to $400 million. So, there is a huge competition between private and government-owned companies that provide satellite launching services. One is a California-based company called SpinLaunch that aims to launch satellites by throwing them into space.
A space technology startup wants to reinvent the rocket launch — by putting satellites into a circular chamber and whipping them around to more than 5,000 miles per hour, before catapulting them towards orbit. https://t.co/2y4qR9THqy
— CNN (@CNN) June 15, 2022
How does that go?
SpinLaunch is a vertically rotating machine in a giant vacuum zone based on G acceleration. That launching facility consists of a rotating arm that holds a payload containing a satellite on one side.
The rotating arm has a releasing mechanism, which releases the payload perfectly when the arm reaches a required speed at the moment when the tangential vector of the arm aligns with the exit pole. During SpinLaunch’s test launch, the rotating arm released payloads at 180 rpm that reached two hundred thousand feet within 60 seconds, where a two-stage chemical rocket fired and pushed the payload to its targeted destination.
SpinLaunch is planning to start with its Suborbital Accelerator, which will be 50.4 meters high and can go up to 450 rpm. This will generate 10,000G acceleration and increase the payload speed up to 7 times the speed of sound. SpinLaunch’s first generation payload would carry 200kg, which means it can launch up to 150 nanosatellites in a single launch.
Get an inside look at how we conduct a typical flight test on our Suborbital Accelerator, located at @Spaceport_NM.
Learn more about how this 33-meter mass accelerator comes online, spins up, and sends a launch vehicle 30,000 feet into the atmosphere: https://t.co/Zp9quQyeBU
— SpinLaunch (@spinlaunch) April 18, 2022
The usual satellite launch happens by making the satellite sit over a huge liquid rocket engine, in which fuel makes 85% of the total weight. SpinLaunch launches a satellite by throwing it up to a distance in a thinner atmosphere, where two-stage chemical rocket fires and assists in covering the rest of the distance requiring a small fraction of fuel compared to other methods. Its fuel requirement decreases the upfront cost, making it more sustainable as the launching facility can throw payload with renewably generated power.
To make every launch successful, SpinLaunch mastered a few engineering challenges. The first engineering obstacle was to release the payload at the perfect moment. If there’s a slight mistake, it could launch the payload at 7 times the speed of sound into the launching facility, resulting in complete destruction.
The second obstacle SpinLaunch had to overcome was the heat the payload would face during its flight. At that extreme speed, the air resistance to the payload might create a shockwave, increasing its temperature. The third obstacle was how releasing a 200kg weight payload at 450 rpm affects the rotating arm, which suddenly goes from carrying such a weight to no weight. So, making all these things happen reliably is quite an achievement for the company.
YouTube: An Inside Look at Designing for the SpinLaunch Launch Environment